Mental Health?

One unusual Covid related problem is the increasing conflation of terms mental health and mental illness. Despite the difficulties of defining the terms being noted in 1958 by Jahoda¹, the Canadian Mental Health Association.² makes the distinction at least amenable albeit slightly biologically deterministic.

‘Mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ are increasingly being used as if they mean the same thing, but they do not…

When we talk about mental health, we’re talking about our mental well-being: our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties, our social connections, and our understanding of the world around us

A mental illness is an illness the affects that way people think, feel, behave, or interact with others. There are many different mental illnesses, and they have different symptoms that impact peoples’ lives in different ways.

Having just accessed a site for assistance to commercial companies a decent range of what they term mental health problems are illustrated and they offer managers a 45-minute course on the topic.

What do we mean by mental health conditions?

The problem seems to lie in the noun ‘health’ and the usual use of its antonym, ‘illness’. I am either healthy or I am ill; in common parlance it is difficult to be both. Now the problem comes that at almost any time I could suffer irritability and or a lack of motivation but it would be very unusual to describe me as ‘mentally ill’; this is a term which is normally reserved for the severe mental health problems (schizophrenia and bipolar) to which people have a genetic disposition.

Thus, we are presented with the alarming potential that most of the population who have less than ‘perfect’ mental health now can claim to have a mental health problem and the employer has a potential duty of care to remedy the cause. Perhaps the cause is also Ironic that English with 171,000 or so words cannot be more specific as to what is poor mental health without it being an illness.

We recommend that legal and HR attention is directed to determining the duty of care in respect of this issue otherwise the boundaries of care could be problematic in the long term.


¹Jahoda, M. (1958). Joint commission on mental health and illness monograph series: Vol. 1. Current concepts of positive mental health. Basic Books. https://doi.org/10.1037/11258-000

²Heretohelp.bc.ca/q-and-a/whats-the-difference-between-mental-health-and-mental-illness